Friday, August 29, 2008

Scandinavia Trip - Part 1 (Japan)

When explaining my plans of travelling to Scandinavia for a holiday, most people asked why? It was as if we were going off the beaten track and exploring an unknown, untouched and potentially dangerous part of the world; with nothing interesting or exciting to be seen. It was either Scandinavia or Mexico, and we weren’t overly keen on sharing our trip with thousands of American teens who coincidentally would be spending their Spring Break in Cancun!
The trip began uneventfully, apart from almost leaving our bags in Cairns airport, luckily the taxi driver wasn’t too perplexed when we asked her to return so that we could collect them. The flight to Japan was more eventful, as the crew took a liking to us and dutifully kept us fuelled up with double Gin and tonics for the entire flight. What seemed like a good idea at the time made for an interesting entry to a very crazy country; drunk in Japan before we even stepped off the plane.


We first realised how orderly and pleasant our time in Japan would be when we approached the conveyor belts to claim our luggage. Each bag was evenly spaced and with its carry handle facing outward for ease of collection, no bogan luggage handlers trashing you luggage in this country!

With our hotel located close to the hipster shopping precinct of Shubuya, we decided to explore the next morning and found Tokyo to be one of the most fun, outgoing and easily manageable places to visit. Virtually no one spoke fluent English, but this caused no issues as all menus were augmented with pictures and everyone was patient and very friendly; to the point of openly apologising when YOU made a mistake!!!

Brightly coloured fixed gear bikes were everywhere, most with no brakes and zooming along with the dense traffic. Velocity rims were the wheels of choice and most bikes were nameless Japanese (NJS) track bikes with narrow riser bars and toe clips. Ladies bikes or MTBs were used by the common riders and were generally ridden smoothly along the footpaths with the foot traffic.
Subway travel was a pleasure, even though it was cramped. The easiest way to travel was to buy the cheapest ticket you could find, travel to where ever you wanted and then on the way out of the station approach a ‘Fare Adjusting Machine’ which would tell you how much you owed. You would then pay the deficit and exit via the turnstiles, easy!

Tim and I let our metro-ness come out and spent most of the day clothes and shoe shopping before we retired to the hotel in preparation for a night in Roppongi, the ‘nightlife’ district. A strip comprised of pubs and restaurants, Roppongi’s most annoying feature was the African American spruikers who followed white guys like us constantly trying to get us into their clubs for ‘titties’ and ‘women’. We had a fantastic Japanese dinner, topped off with Sake before we hit the town. Finding some great pubs and enjoying the frivolity we ended up heading home quite late the next morning.

Walking in completely the wrong direction, and perhaps borrowing unsecured bicycles, we eventually gave up on navigating ourselves and caught a taxi. The taxi ride didn’t last too long before my rear passenger side window was coated in the contents of Tim’s stomach as he released it from the front window. We were promptly ejected from the cab, I can’t even remember if we paid! After more of a walk we eventually caught another cab and arrived back at the hotel in time for Tim to purge his stomach once again.
The sun was well and truly up when we got home and we didn’t rise from bed until dinner time. Our hangovers worsened by the lack of functioning air-con in our room.
Tips for a good time: Don’t be intimidated by the lack of English tongue or the subway; stay near Shibuya; eat lots of Japanese food, YUM; if the lights go red when you are crossing a road, do what everyone else does and run; and enjoy the amazing number of beautiful, stylish and elegant Japanese women.